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It's only when you're making your way through the thickest snowfall, that you realize: it's dreadfully quiet. The sound of the wind, first a roar, eventually fades into a steady muffled static. It envelops you in the sheer cold, and you eventually become numb to the chill. That is, if you weren't already dead on the inside before the ice touches your heart. Truly a white noise all of its own.

All alone, on your own except for a trusty team of Pokemon, though the majority are in Poke Balls. Only one familiar face walks beside you, a face that you explicitly told to stay in his Ball, that it was too cold for him here, and you could traverse up the mountain just fine. If it got really bad, you could just pull out Konan. But no, he refused to go inside, and you knew that no matter if it was for his own good, that stubborn purple spike ball would just sit there, and continue blocking your way however he could.

It was futile, really, and in the end you gave up, tried to wrap a scarf around his non-existent neck and failed-he wouldn't let you put it on him, why were you not surprised-then headed out and upwards into the wilds of snow country. This was the first region you'd been to where there was actually a notable area with snowfall, not just a cave of ice or a chilly mountaintop hidden somewhere between regions. You'd done your best to bundle up, but...oh, who were you kidding?

Your green sweater, and that scarf you'd tried to give Yurei. You could've tried to buy more clothes, but your argument talking yourself out of this consisted of "More clothes equals more stuff to carry in the future." And that was that. You must've been manic, thinking you could traverse the snow like this.

"Gengar..." Beside you, your friend and confidant is gritting his teeth against the biting wind and flurries. He may be a Ghost type, but that doesn't mean he can't feel. It's cold! You were hoping that the storm wouldn't be so bad; that it would clear just enough for you to reach the lake at least, but no. It's coming on like a frozen hurricane, and you need to rest. There was a house just at the base of the mountain, where you were able to take a snooze and heal your team before continuing on. Come to think of it, you could've asked one of the residents for an extra sweater...

No, no, that isn't the point! The point is, if you don't find another place of shelter soon, you and the majority of your team are going to turn into popsicles! But who the heck would build a house in the middle of all this frost?

"Gen...? Gengar, Gengar!" Suddenly, even as cold and dull as you feel, the sensation of Yurei tugging frantically at your arm shocks you enough to turn to your right-jeez, when was the last time you'd looked to your sides?!-and gaze into his wide, red eyes. "W-What is it?" You can't distinguish your breath from the sleet rushing around you.

"Gen, Gengar!" He points straight ahead, like an arrow. You squint your eyes and somehow, are just barely able to make out...the roof of a house.

A house. There's a house dead ahead. You hoped against hope and it payed off.

As stiff and pained as your joints feel, you're rushing those last couple of yards and feet, as quick as humanly possible in your state. Yurei is right at your heels. At long last, the rest of the building looms into view, and you let out an unheard squeak of relieved joy as your hand wraps around the doorknob and turns it. Opening the door, the two of you scramble inside, and it slams shut. A new silence descends upon you. The howling wind has returned to your hearing, but is now locked outdoors, where it belongs. You are safe.

"Geng..." As you shake out the snow from your eyes, your companion is fixated on something across the way. You follow him, to see an elderly woman seated at a table. The room is lit up just so by a flickering candle by the window. She is watching you both, though it is impossible to determine with what sort of emotion. You bow quickly, and offer a stuttering apology.

"I-I'm sorry, I didn't m-mean to disturb you-we were in the snow, and it got r-really bad, we just-we need a place to stay, for a little while? Please?" Most people were quite friendly, not minding if or when traveling Trainers would slip into their houses, looking for shelter or tips. Would your luck keep on running strong?

She says nothing, eyes simply raking over you as she slowly stands up, and makes her way forwards. The energy in the room is charged, with something unusual yet not unknown. Where have you felt this before? You're not the only one who notices this. Yurei is watching warily, seeming to favor one leg over the other. He's waiting, ready to spring into action if you need him. Always protective. Always alert.

Always there.

She's standing in front of you, and it's only at this moment that you realize just how hard your heart is beating in your chest. It feels like it could just come bursting, tearing out from under your skin and bones at any given moment. As if it were some kind of monster. It hurts. Your breathing is quicker, and although the situation seems innocuous enough, to you this pain is something familiar. It hasn't been around in a long while, though.

You haven't experienced anxiety like this since the last time you had to remember...them, and living with them. You recall the harsh reprimands, the fighting, the drinking and pills, the...assault, the things you didn't want to address, the night you left...

The woman continues to stare at you, and a new sense of vulnerability is beginning to creep in. That look...it's like she can see through you. See through to what lies beneath. All the scars, including those thin lines upon your cheek that seem to burn in your skin. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all?

She is an adult. No matter the Trainer customs, this is her house. And she is free to do with it as she pleases. Maybe...maybe she built this house in the middle of the snow, because she thought it would be hidden in the thick snowfall? Therefore, no one would find her? Maybe, somehow, you're the first person to bother her...?!

You find yourself ducking instinctively. You can't help it. Instinct takes over, for just that one moment. "Please don't hurt me!" Yurei recognizes your stance immediately, and rushes to your side. But he seems to be confused-as if, he is unsure of what to do right now.

Just stay, stay beside me...stay with me...

But you are surprised when, instead of a barking retort or a hard slap, a cool, worn hand slips into yours, leaving behind something small and papery. You relax just briefly, in bewilderment as the object is unconsciously raised eye-level. It looks kind of like...a Pokemon omamori?

She's already walking back to the table. As she does so, she stops for just a moment, to turn her head slightly, and regard you from the corner of her tired eyes.

"You remind me of someone...someone I knew, from a long time ago...they haven't stopped standing on your neck yet either, have they? The weight of judgement is resting upon your shoulders, and it's not even your cross to bear..."

Now she's easing into her seat once more. "That is a Cleanse Tag. It will keep wild Pokemon at bay-as well as any evil spirits." She seems to emphasize those last two words, even though the sentence flows smoothly and without any long pauses. It's as if she's hinting at something, underneath it all. She looks at Yurei with a fluid turn of her head. "Make him hold it." Okay, now that was definitely defined!

By this point, you're on the verge of breaking into tears. You don't understand what she's trying to tell you, but reliving all this crud in one sitting is way too much to handle. It's making you feel, feel like...like you want to do something you'll regret.

You can't. You won't. Distraction, distraction-that's all that's on your mind as in an instant, you fling the door open, and dash out into the windchill. The door swings shut behind you, and Yurei darts forwards, passing through flawlessly. "Gengar!"

The brisk weather helps to clear your mind, get rid of all those ugly thoughts. The wind is roaring, once again a fresh sound to your ears. Even as you shake and tremble in the harsh climate, the effect is evident on your state of mind. The biting cold has served its purpose. You can analyze the situation properly now. You remember the Cleanse Tag, still clutched in your hand. You remember the old woman. She hadn't hurt you. She hadn't even yelled. And when you got right down to it, her words were more strange than anything else. Not harmful. Just puzzling.

First things first: you need to go back inside, and apologize for your outburst. And then ask if you could spend the night. So, as frozen as you feel yet again, you knock on the door this time. It didn't cross your mind to do that before? Maybe it was just too darn cold. Then, you step inside with Yurei. As the barrier closes and your eyes adjust however, your gaze widens.

The house is dark. The little candle that had been fluttering erratically has gone out completely, leaving behind no trace of the flame it held just a few moments prior. The house is swimming in shadows. But that's not the end of it.

The old woman is nowhere to be seen.

This house is one room, the main room and parlor connected, with a small cooking area to the right. There is no other exit for her to have left from. And she would've had to pass you just to get out, opening the entrance that lay behind you.

Yurei is looking at you, and lets out a startled yelp as you fall to your knees, leaning back against the door. The Cleanse Tag seems oddly heavy in your hand.

Was she...a ghost? That seems to be the only answer possible. It would certainly explain the energy change when you'd first stepped in, and the bizarre speech. And of course, the vanishing act. No wonder it felt so familiar: you'd experienced this phenomenon once before, and in the same region, too. Back at that house in the woods, when you'd stumbled in after cutting a path outside in search of shelter. Your attention had been caught by none other than a Gastly-the only one you ever saw in those woods in fact, or at least outdoors, which had then in turn led to you noticing the roof beyond the trees.

Shortly upon arrival and exploration was when you'd seen the figures. From the corner of your eyes, as you'd wandered through the desolate kitchen and down the upstairs hallway. You'd tried to follow them, even as wary as your trusty partner had been to pursue the dead-you knew that's what they were, there was no need to speak it aloud. The entire house itself had been lost to time, with no real hint as to its past. Now, it was a haven for Ghosts, both the ones reborn as Pokemon and the ones who couldn't let go.

After your chases were unsuccessful, leading only to scoldings by your spiky violet companion, you'd opened one of the doors to find, surprisingly enough, a television. The screen had been buzzing with static, but there was something about it that called out to you, almost as if you could hear a little voice inside your head, guiding you on. Your hand had swung down as if in a trance, to thump against the top of the flickering box. It had startled Yurei; he wasn't used to seeing you make such motions.

That was how you'd met Shocker...

Ghosts. More Ghosts. It seemed that for whatever reason, you were inexplicably intertwined with the deceased and their pathways, both present and former. Maybe it was just in your aura; these things and situations were drawn to you. Or perhaps it was just luck, like your escape that night eight or so years ago, before they'd fallen to that hand, be it their own or another's. It didn't require your concern.

You have to wonder then: were you really the first one to have stumbled upon this place? Perhaps others-no, most likely others, had come before you and arrived here, to meet this woman, and...

Well, what then? Had she always been giving out Cleanse Tags, and decided to keep on doing so in death? Or was it something that had started up afterwards? How were the Tags appearing here? How had she died? Why had she made her home out here in the icy terrain? So many questions, but no answers. What should you do? You have, quite unexpectedly, stumbled onto another haunted house, though a smaller one at that. Or it might not be haunted. Maybe she only appeared periodically? Augh, more questions!

"Gen..." You feel a light tap on your shoulder. Yurei is looking at you, that familiar grin on his face. It makes you smile in return. "Gengar!" He doesn't want you to worry. But then...what do you do now?

Closing your eyes, and feeling the paper against your palm, you come to a conclusion. Placing the Tag on the ground beside you, you kneel down and press your hands together in prayer.

You pray with all your heart. You pray for the old woman. You pray for Yurei. You say thank you for the Cleanse Tag, and for the shelter. You promise to keep things neat and tidy while you ride out the storm. You'll be heading out in the morning.

But most of all...you say thank you, for the experience. For teaching you that good people exist, even if they aren't exactly living. That no matter what you may have gone through before...it will not always define you or your life. You are learning that more good people and Pokemon exist, have existed. And gradually, the times with them will be enough to outweigh the other memories.

At least, that's what you're hoping for to happen.

"Gengar, Gengar!" Yurei is clapping as he watches you set down your bag, and begin pulling off your Poke Balls. You give him a soft smile.

For just one night, you will all have that happy home.

…...

The time is well past midnight. Outside, the storm has settled down some, but not by much. It's still too strong to slog through, especially at this hour. Aside from Ban-chan, who's floated up somewhere by the rafters, the rest of the team is fast asleep, and for Ghost types at least that's interesting to observe. But that's not what has my attention so fully.

She shifts on the floor in front of the window, streaks of moonlight filtering down upon her unevenly. She looks like a forlorn image from a forgotten time. A being that doesn't belong in this cesspool of a world. An angel with broken wings.

Vivica hasn't gone to sleep yet.

This is the third night in the week that it's happened. And I know from past experience, good things don't happen if you fail to keep a watchful eye on her during these times. When the rest of the world is seemingly turned away and unable to hear you, that's when you need someone the most. That's what I strive to remind her: she will always have someone listening.

Even if my skin is stained with the scars of time, and my hands are red with sin...

But your hands are bloody too, in their own way, aren't they Vivica? You bear your own scars on this plane of existence.

Floating over, I sit beside her as she stares out the window in a daze. She's so pale under the moonlight. It's a haunting sight to see. The shadows under her eyes stand out, almost to the point of looking bruised. So do the lines etched into her cheek. It's depressing to think about; I will never not feel that anguish knowing what lengths she was driven to just to get rid of the pain. Her expression is so empty and distant.

I hate it. I can't stand it when she gets like this. It reminds me of them, and how far they went just to break her.

And then...then I broke them. Heh.

"It's such a nice night, isn't it?" Although we don't speak even nearly the same language, she perks up and comes to following my greeting. Looking over, her sea grey eyes grow just a bit brighter, as she gives me a tired smile. "Hey, Yurei. I didn't wake you, did I?"

I shake my head. Of course not, I'm keeping an eye on you. I won't let anything happen. Sometimes, when she can't sleep, she cries silently to herself, thinking nobody else is watching or paying attention for those faint hiccups and sniffles. Other times, she wanders away all alone, which makes her vulnerable to attack. On the worst nights though, her greatest enemy is herself. Her body is a testament to that. No matter if I steal those hurtful things away, there are always other methods of harming oneself. The world is not safe.

"Oh. Well, I hope you're not having trouble sleeping, too. I wouldn't wish these feelings...on anyone, really." She draws her legs up against her chest, wrapping her thin arms around them. I'm so tempted to join her in her actions, giving her one of those 'hugs' humans are fond of. I'd never known of it in my particular culture, being a rather antisocial Ghost, but...they're quite nice, once you get the hang of them. If I initiate it, it'll go through. Even if she can't hold me back, at least she'd feel it.

And...I would, too.

On the other hand however, my species had a tendency to sap the warmth out of living beings. A full hug would be courting death more than a mere touch. And she needs as much of her life as she can keep. I will forever be cold. But she is my warmth, my safe haven, from a distance.

"You're troubled." I keep my voice low, to match her fragile soft tones. Besides, I'm not sure if I'd really want anyone else hearing our 'personal' talks. None of her other Pokemon understand her as much as I do. It would probably shock them to know everything. And she might get scared, too. I know how her mind works-she's always afraid of being rejected. Even as far as we've come, she still can't forget. It still controls her. Look at those wretches, look what they've done to her!

If, for some reason, one of the others wound up 'betraying' her, as it were...

No. I will not engage that train of thought. No one else can ever hurt her. I picked them, because I was so certain that they'd understand her. From all the other faces that graced her team, in every region, I gradually helped to build up her perfect team. All Ghosts, all kindred souls. Eventually, they will know everything, and she will confide in them too, and then I won't...be alone...

…...alone...no, I'm not alone. I have everything I could ever need. And she's sitting right in front of me. I doubt anyone else will try to step in, anyway-they know not to cross me. I don't need them getting involved. All she needs is me. They're just for balance. For balance. They can't take her away from me...

"Yurei." Her voice startles me out of my mind scramble. How long was I just sitting here and thinking up nonsensical future situations? Too long. I look at her with a big smile on my face. "Hey there!"

Her eyes appear watery, and instantly my smile falters. Please no, don't let her cry...I couldn't stand the sight. It made me wish that I hadn't dispatched them so long ago, if only so I could savor the joy of tracking them and killing them now. Or any one of the other rejects who had tried to hurt Vivica since then. One by one, I shot them down.

"Do you ever wonder...what would've happened if we'd never met each other?"

The question hits me straight on, as if I'd just taken a harsh blow in battle. If I had a heart, it'd be skipping right about now. The thought-no, I don't want to tempt fate! Whenever I come close to imagining a life without Vivica, even a life where I'd been able to simply live out my days undisturbed in the Tower, there's a sharp pain in my chest. I feel like I'm sinking...drowning? Is this what they call 'drowning'? The pain blocks out everything, it's all I can focus on. Maybe this is a taste of death. Perhaps I'm reliving my previous life's ending.

Whatever the case, I will not dignify that question with an answer other than a solid "No! A life without Vivica is no kind of life at all!" and a few swift shakes of my head. She seems a bit taken aback, tilting her head and staring at me with those soulful eyes. "A-Are you...saying that you don't like the idea?" There's just the faintest red flush to her cheeks. I hope she's not coming down with something. Oh no, she caught a cold in the storm and is now delirious! Is that where this is all coming from?!

Suddenly, a powerful gust of wind whips against the house, shaking it to its foundation. I can't help it-I shiver. Even as a Ghost, I'm still vulnerable to the elements. This house may be protected, but without a heat source we're just thawing out in a temporary bubble before marching out again into the unforgiving snow country.

Vivica sees this. In an instant, her hands are in front of me. I blink. "Huh?"

"Give me your hands." Her voice is gentle, and there's a tender smile on her face. I follow her request without question, placing my palms on top of the deep green sweater fabric covering her own. My hands are rather small compared to hers, though it might just be the cloth making hers look bigger. Then, her fingers close over the top of my hands, covering them with the warm ends while trying not to press down, lest they go right through. It's almost as if my hands are sharing the sleeves with her.

I can't help it. Such a small gesture, and yet...it's not. It's really not. Not when she does it. As cold a being as I am, I feel that charge of heat shoot up my back, settling somewhere in my face. For a few slow moments, I enjoy the unnamed feeling upon my skin, until it gradually fades away once she releases my hands from her hold. I admit, I miss the contact.

"I don't like thinking about it, either." She's back to looking out the window, though her figure doesn't appear nearly as lost as it did previously. There's the tiniest spark of a flame in her eyes, and it's helping to lessen the impact of the bags and scars beneath. She seems more...alive. All thanks to a little touch. It reminds me of, well, me. Did she share in some of the warmth I felt? In my case, it's more like draining energy, but the process is similar enough.

Now she's smiling, and turning to address me yet again. The smile is meant for me, and me alone. The gratitude and...and, something else I can't quite pinpoint, but it makes me soar.

"We were brought together, for whatever reason. And, although it's hard for me to do, I-I'm trying to learn differently-and not constantly question myself. I was lucky to have met you. If that never happened, I wouldn't have come as far as I have. I-I might've even..." Her voice trails off, and she closes her eyes.

"Why aren't I allowed to be happy? When I met you...it was like being given a second chance to live." Again, those arresting green-grey eyes are upon me. "Fate saw fit to help me meet my first companion, so I'll do my best to make him proud." She bows her head. "I'm not just your Trainer, I'm your friend. And that will never change. Until I die, I will never abandon you. Just like you and the others have never given up on me. I need to have more faith in my abilities."

She lets out a deep breath. "Whew...I didn't realize I had so much to say. Eheh..." Her voice is so very soft. "Guess being here inspires me to make mini-speeches, hee." She stretches and yawns, before finding her backpack to lay her head upon. She curls up on the floor in front of the window.

"In the morning...we'll start again in the morning." That was fine by me. I was just glad that she was finally going to get some sleep. Other great fears: that she would pass out in the middle of the snowstorm.

"Yurei?" She's calling me. I turn around, looking at her expectantly. She pats the floor beside her. "Keep me company?" As if she had to ask twice. Shuffling over I make myself comfortable, and close my eyes. The only sounds I can hear are the faint roars from outside, and Vivica's breathing. It's growing slower and steadier as she begins to drift off into slumber.

Make me proud, huh? I was already proud. I'd seen many other Trainers in the world, but not a one of them could compare to her. I felt honored to walk beside her, even when other people would stare or make comments, like us Ghost types weren't good enough, or that we were too creepy, unable to be marketed to the mainstream. Like she wasn't good enough, on top of choosing us to fight with.

What a load of bull. She was good enough for me. That's all that mattered.

She says she would always be my friend. No matter what. Even if someday, she was forced to confront all the blood on my hands; what I had done to her previous teammates, and what I made the rest of her team do...even then, would she take me? She's the only one who could.

My greatest sin, even more so than all the lives I've stolen. It's her. Her and every single feeling I've experienced since then. Everything I do, is for her. Many would probably say I've betrayed my kind. Many more would call me a demon. Either way, it doesn't faze me. Until the end, I will protect her, just as she protects me, in her heart.

In her sleep, Vivica mumbles. I respond by drawing my face closer, enjoying the faint traces of heat her body gives off. I'd never cared for it before, but now I seem to crave it. The last sight I see is her sleeping face, and the snowy moonlight dancing on the wooden floor.

Inside, this place is warm...

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